U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet finally emerged to answer some questions on Afghanistan, but it is apparent he and other vulnerable Democrats haven’t come up with a reasonable way to explain the White House’s disastrous handling of America’s exit from the country.
Bennet repeated a perplexing argument he’s made previously to 9 News defending President Biden’s withdrawal as the “right decision,” but declined to characterize Biden’s withdrawal as a success. Which of course it was not.
Thirteen U.S. service members dead.
Americans abandoned in Afghanistan.
Millions of dollars in military equipment controlled by the Taliban.
Allies infuriated and America embarrassed.
— Matt Connelly (@MattConnelly) September 1, 2021
“I think that 2,500 names that we forwarded to the administration to try to get folks out, and that’s where we’ve been, and I think, in the days ahead we’re going to have the opportunity to assess whether the withdrawal was effective or whether it was not,” Bennet said.
Bennet can’t have it both ways here.
Biden’s decision to allow the country to immediately collapse was not just “ineffective,” but a catastrophic policy choice that left Americans stranded, Afghan allies abandoned, and 13 service-members dead.
Bennet’s word salad on Afghanistan will only make matters worse for his party as Democrats struggle to defend Biden’s characterization of the withdrawal as an “extraordinary success.”
Joe Biden claims his Afghanistan withdrawal was an “extraordinary success.”
Here’s 3 minutes of Biden and his administration making promises that they failed to keep. pic.twitter.com/AXsAxLUGrc
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 1, 2021
Meanwhile, the White House is circling the wagons within their party on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a prominent critic of the White House over the last several weeks, has already decidedly shifted his tone since Biden’s speech yesterday.
Rep. Jason Crow: "We woke up this morning and the war in Afghanistan is over… that is an astonishing accomplishment by the president. He said he was going to do this, and he did it. He kept his word, and many other presidents weren't willing to do that." pic.twitter.com/b6yFZXpwf4
— The Hill (@thehill) September 1, 2021
The reason Democrats are beginning to fall back in line behind Biden is because Congress is on the cusp of a vigorous debate over Afghanistan as they consider the National Defense Authorization Act this month.
The issue is bound to come to a head on Wednesday when the House Armed Services Committee votes on a major defense bill that is certain to become ground zero for debate over the Biden administration’s Afghanistan policy. Republicans are preparing to offer an onslaught of amendments touching on everything from funding for the Taliban to the American citizens left behind, which could put some of the committee’s most vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot.
Crow serves on the House Armed Services and House Intelligence Committees, while Bennet serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Bennet especially will have to explain why he didn’t speak out more forcefully after Senate Intelligence Committee members put out a dire plea to the administration on July 15 urging Biden to expedite the evacuation of America’s Afghan allies.
“Given the increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s direct targeting of Afghan partners to the United States, we ask that you pursue a set of options to keep these Afghans safe, including approving Special Immigrant Visas [SIVs], evacuations to a third country, and/or priority admission under the U.S. Refugee Admissions program,” wrote Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the panel’s chair, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), the vice chair.
The State Department acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that Biden abandoned the majority of the U.S.’s SIV Afghan allies after the last Americans departed Kabul on August 31.
Unacceptable doesn’t even begin to describe this. https://t.co/3ykcoNYlbn
— Rep. Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) September 1, 2021
A State Department spokesperson also admitted the Biden administration has no idea how many, if any, of the 100 to 200 Americans who were stranded in the country have made it out.
This failure is all the more difficult for Democrats to explain given we now know President Biden told Afghan President Ghani on July 23 that Ghani needed to change the perception of the fight against the Taliban, “whether it is true or not.”
In much of the call, Biden focused on what he called the Afghan government’s “perception” problem. “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
Those are hardly the words of an American president who sounds remotely concerned about evacuating Afghan allies or the country’s impending collapse.
The reality is there aren’t sufficient answers to these questions for politicians like Bennet or any other Democrat.
President Biden botched this withdrawal, and Bennet’s failure as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee to hold the administration accountable as they blundered their way through this catastrophe will follow him for the rest of his political career.
May it be a short one.